Health

Unlike the mercury-laden alternatives, LED lightbulbs pose no toxic health risk for our communities. 

Fluorescent Lighting Contains Mercury Which Is Dangerous for Infants and Children

The main concern when a CFL breaks is the neurological impacts on infants, small children or pregnant women inhaling mercury vapor. This is based on strong scientific evidence that developing children and fetuses are much more sensitive to the potential toxic effects of mercury as their brains are rapidly changing and developing. Mercury exposure can lead to long-term neurological deficiencies.

Mercury vapor is heavier than air, and mercury concentrations in indoor air tend to be higher near the floor. Infants and toddlers who crawl, sit, walk, play and breathe on or close to the floor are thus likely to be most heavily exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL. 

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What is mercury? 

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can affect the nervous, digestive and immune systems, as well as the lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. Young children and babies in utero are especially at risk of developmental impacts from mercury exposure.   The most common way people are exposed to mercury is by eating fish containing methylmercury. Other exposures may result from using or breaking products, like fluorescent lightbulbs, containing elemental mercury. Toxic fluorescent lighting can expose people to both elemental mercury and methylmercury.  

Elemental Mercury in Fluorescent Lighting 

Elemental mercury is being phased out of many of its historic uses, such as in thermometers and dental amalgams, but it is present in all fluorescent lighting. Exposure to elemental mercury happens when a fluorescent bulb breaks. If the mercury is not immediately contained or cleaned up, it can evaporate, becoming an invisible, odorless, toxic vapor that people inhale. Poorly ventilated, warm, indoor spaces are of particular concern in cases of airborne mercury vapors.  

Methylmercury and Lighting 

Broken or faulty fluorescent bulbs should be handled as hazardous waste. In many cases, however, fluorescent bulbs are disposed of in landfills or informal waste dumps. The mercury contained in these light bulbs can escape into the air or leach into the groundwater, converting into methylmercury and exposing people to mercury poisoning.  

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The Clean Lighting Coalition is a global partnership to capture the health and environmental benefits of eliminating mercury-based lighting. It is coordinated by CLASP and supported by Climate Imperative and Sequoia Climate Fund.

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